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Why Is the Skyline GT-R R34 Illegal in America?

  • Cars Explained
  • Renee Martin
  • 8 minutes

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The Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 has achieved a near mythical status among motorheads. Consequently, legends abound about whether or not importing a Nissan Skyline GT-R into the United States is legal. This article will explain why Nissan Skylines cannot be legally imported into the US. Read on because the real reason is far more complex and intriguing than you might at first imagine!

GT-R R34

But first things first:

Are GT-R R34 cars legal in the US?

The simple answer is this. Owning an R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R in the United States is next to impossible unless you have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on customizations.

You can legally bring a Skyline GT-R R34 into the US and use it as a race or drag car. It can also be owned as a show car. But it is not street legal, i.e., you can’t drive it on the roads.

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How to legally own a GT-R R34

There is one way to get your hands on a Nissan Skyline R34 GTR and drive it legally in the United States. You must have a registered importer bring it up to spec with the relevant federal regulations. Unfortunately, Skyline R34 GTRs can be fairly expensive, a fact that is not often understood. When added to the price of the car itself, shipping fees, and taxes, the total quickly becomes prohibitive.

Also, as with every legislation, however, there are loopholes. For example, cars 25 years old or older can be imported but still might not get the go-ahead from authorities. This means importing an R34 won’t be an option until 2024. Currently, Skyline R32s can be imported, which is wonderful news!

If you want to know how much a Nissan Skyline costs, read How Much Do Skylines Cost? : Nissan Skyline’s Rise to Sky High.

Why is the Skyline GT-R R34 illegal?

There is a great deal of false information floating around as to why Skylines were prohibited in the United States. Some have theorized that this was because they could readily outrun police cars like the Crown Vic and Chevrolet Caprice of the 1980s and 1990s. Some others believe that it’s because they are right-hand drive cars.

The real reason, though, has more to do with something as mundane as US import laws. The Nissan Skyline ban exists simply because the car failed to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The Nissan Skyline is illegal in the US because of the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988. You might recall that the Nissan S 15 is also illegal under this act.

A little bit of history now

Around 50,000 “grey market” automobiles were being brought into the United States annually by Americans in the mid-1980s (often from Japan).

There was a robust market for vehicles imported to the US from grey markets and then brought up to compliance standards so that they could be driven on American roads. Drivers were, of course, drawn to the possibility of savings and a wider selection of vehicles.

Even though many importers on the grey market were doing a great job of getting automobiles up to the full, required American standard, problems were evident with importers who were avoiding the rules and not making the necessary changes.

This gave automakers (led by Mercedes-Benz) the ammo they needed to push Congress to establish legislation prohibiting the import of grey market vehicles. There were undoubtedly some valid worries about the quality and safety of grey-market automobiles.

Still, it is now evident that the greater motivating reason for automakers was lost earnings due to grey market imports.

Why didn’t Nissan just make Skylines compliant for sale in the US?

Yes, Nissan could have avoided the ban if they had followed the rules more closely when developing and producing the various Skyline models. What stopped them, then, from doing so?

It’s difficult to pin down a specific reason. But it appears that Nissan was concerned about losing money on Skyline sales in the United States. Since their inception, GTR Skylines have always been a specialized subset of the automotive market, making them a less lucrative investment for automakers than more “mainstream” models.

A major factor in Nissan’s decision to pull out of the American market was the enormous cost of testing and certifying vehicles. Moreover, Nissan may have been forced to make changes to the car that would have reduced performance (either for safety reasons or to meet emissions/environmental laws).

Finally, the automobile was only ever intended for right-hand drive, and due to the location of the steering column and turbocharging system, a factory left-hand drive variation would have required extensive re-engineering.

Here’s a little more background information about the car we’re talking about.

Nissan GT-R

The legendary Nissan Skyline sports one of the best-looking rear ends in the business. It is also faster than a Bugatti Veyron! No wonder, then, since the first GT-R, the Hakosuka, was developed by Nissan in 1969, the brand has amassed a significant and devoted following.

It’s interesting to learn about the evolution of the Nissan Skyline GT-R. The vehicle has been Nissan’s flagship for six generations, showcasing the company’s technological prowess. The initial generation of these vehicles, which used a 2.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, were icons of the automotive industry.

The story goes that Nissan was having financial difficulties in the mid-1980s, and the lackluster performance of the R31 Skyline, the R32’s predecessor, didn’t help. So it was decided by Nissan’s upper management that the company’s fortunes would turn around with the R32, and a racing GT-R variant was developed from the start.

Soon, the GT-R emerged as a dominant force in Group A racing. It was then that the Australian media began calling the Skyline Godzilla – a monster from Japan. The R32 GT-phenomenal R’s race success and subsequent incorporation into the Gran Turismo franchise helped to establish Godzilla as a cultural icon in the automotive industry.

R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R

There have been many subsequent iterations of the Skyline GT-R, but the R34 is still among the most impressive. Between 1999 and 2002, Nissan produced the R34 Skyline GT-R in a few different trim levels, from the entry-level GT-R all the way up to the high-end Z-Tune R34.

Some of the fame of the Nissan Skyline GT-R can be traced back to the film 2 Fast 2 Furious, in which the late Paul Walker played the role of Brian O’Conner. The character was shown to own and drive a 550-horsepower Skyline R34. If the cars’ raw performance capability weren’t already tempting enough, the fact that they are illegal to import into the United States added a further layer of allure: the enticement of the forbidden fruit.

The Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 was equipped with the legendary GT500 RB26DETT engine and delivered outstanding performance. The factory 276 horsepower output was outstanding. It allowed the car to accelerate from 0-60 mph in only 5 seconds! It was a dream to tune. But unfortunately, Nissan’s old racing engine wasn’t cutting it against the competition, so the company transitioned to the VQ30DETT.

From 2002 to 2003, Nissan installed this powerful motor in JGTC racecars. With the improved engine, Nissan was able to achieve greater success in races and remain competitive.

The last Skyline GTR

After the R34, Nissan no longer produced a Skyline GTR; the R35 was simply called the “GT-R R35.” This is significant historically since the Skyline has become and continues to be an icon for the company. It is also a much-beloved moniker among JDM fans. However, the Skyline moniker is now synonymous with Nissan’s high-end sports cars because the Skyline GT-R followed it.

Both the R34 and the R35 are based on the Nissan Skyline luxury car’s Nissan FM chassis. But the R35 has a far shorter history and a lower cult status. As the final generation of the Skyline, the R34 is both a nostalgic throwback and a reflection of the car’s continued JDM dominance.

Insuring your Nissan car

Save on Nissan auto insurance

Even if your Nissan is not a Skyline GT-R R24, you must care for it and insure it! With a market share of 6.15, they still are a formidable presence in the automotive scene in the US. Way.com, the auto super app, can ensure your Nissan gets the best insurance coverage. That too at rates that do not burn a hole in your pocket. So how do we do that? By giving you free auto insurance quotes from 200 leading insurance providers. You can then choose and buy the Nissan auto insurance policy that suits your needs.


Here’s more info on top-rated airport parking, the best parking spots in your city, affordable auto insurance, easy auto refinance, and high-quality car washes near you.


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